Answering The Call
ON MAY 1, 1991, Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock’s all-time Major League stolen base record. He pulled second base out of the ground, held it above his head, and proclaimed, “Today, I am the greatest of all time…” to the crowd at the Oakland Coliseum.
Given both the longevity of his career and the general lack of baserunning skills in today’s game, it seems reasonable to agree that his 1,406 stolen base record will stand for the foreseeable future.
Because baseball is a game of both good stats and negative ones, even the greatest of all time is going to have a few he’d rather forget: In a game on August 23, 1989, among Henderson’s many other accomplishments, he was Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th career strikeout victim.
That same day in 1991 that Henderson broke the stolen base record and raised his arms in triumph, 44-year-old Nolan Ryan was going to take the pitcher’s mound for the Texas Rangers against the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a little more than two years before he would finally retire.
Ryan, from Alvin, Texas, had been drafted by the New York Mets in the 12th round of the 1965 June Amateur Draft. He had gone from the Mets to the Angels, then eventually to the Astros, and finally to the Texas Rangers. That he was playing competitively at all in his mid-40s, much less still dominating opposing batters, was and still is considered almost miraculous.
That evening, though, Big Tex, as he was called, was feeling his age. His back was bad, and nothing seemed to loosen it up. During warm-ups, he told the Rangers’ pitching coach, Dr. Tom House, to be prepared to come get him off the mound early.
Here he was, pitching against the grown sons of players he started with, people who weren’t even born when his professional career began, toiling for a team whose only claim to legitimacy at that point was their contract signing him. Years removed from a serious run at the World Series, he had every excuse to feel old.
Only that night, the excuses didn’t matter. Age didn’t matter. Rickey Henderson’s proclamation early in the day didn’t matter.
That night, Nolan Ryan became the oldest player to ever pitch a no-hitter. Sandy Kofax, the next greatest pitcher in that category, through four. This was Ryan’s seventh.
All when everything told him it was impossible, and when he himself even believed that.
I think God had other ideas.
Now I’m not saying that God is a Texas Rangers fan. In fact, I think if he was, we might have won at least one World Series, but I am saying that there is indeed a lesson in this for all of us. My better half, Rosina, is fond of saying “Nothing beats a failure but a try,” and I believe that try is often what God expects of us.
We as a people are full of excuses for not doing more, not getting involved, not making the changes we say need to be made. If you want to feel a little better – or maybe a little worse – about this, remember that this is nothing new. We see plenty of times in scripture when people did not believe they could achieve what the Lord had called them to do.
In Exodus Chapter 3, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush. Beginning with Verse 16, the Lord said to Moses,
“Go, assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’
18“The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ 19But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.
21“And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. 22Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”
Pause for a moment and think about everything Moses had been through up to that point: Born into a life of slavery at best, he escaped an edict that male children were to be killed at birth, was floated down river alone in a papyrus basket, was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, and grew up as her son.
Compared to his own people being worked to death by their Egyptian masters, this would have been a life of luxury. And yet, he killed an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite, and fled into hiding. He got married, started a family, and found success in his adopted land.
That’s a lot for any life, including no small number of miracles. But even with all that, it’s not like Moses heard the word of the Lord from the burning bush, snapped to it, and said, “Yes, sir!”
Instead, as Chapter 3 gives way to Chapter 4, Moses asked, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
God then showed Moses how to perform his own set of miracles so that Pharoah would know that Moses spoke for God. He turned his staff into a snake, and back again. He made Moses’ arm leprous, and then restored it to healthy tissue. He instructed him to turn the waters of the Nile into blood.
Frankly, at this point, I’d like to believe that the Lord speaking to me from a burning bush would be get my attention with or without the additional miracles, but instead of being convinced by the things that God showed him, Moses was looking for someone else to do the job, someone else to say, “Let my people go.”
10Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
11The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
13But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
14Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. 15You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. 17But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.”
And you probably know how all that turned out.
The more that Moses did as God called him – even in the face of disbelief from his own people and threats and danger from the Egyptians, even with what Moses called his own “faltering lips,” – he led his people out of slavery and into Israel, into freedom, including detours for additional, massive miracles and faltering faith along the way.
So, if you think you’re too old or too young, too this or to that to do what God calls you to do, I say that if you are called by God, no one can successfully stand against you.
If you think to yourself “What can one person do?” I’d suggest that you instead ask yourself “What does God say I can do?
In the 139th Psalm, David asks God,
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”
The Bible is filled with many answers to this question, all of them saying we cannot get away from God or His love.
He sent His blameless son as a sacrifice for our sins.
He sent his Holy Spirit that we might not be alone in our travails.
He gave us example after example of faltering, impure, fragile, less-than-perfect people who rose up and answered their calls.
Sometimes the call is so far from dramatic that you might ask why it even matters. Sometimes you can’t see how it has any affect on you or anyone else.
Trust Him to give you the tools. Maybe He’s not asking you to set His people free. Maybe He’s not asking you to pitch seven no-hitters. Maybe He’s not asking you to change the world but to change the world of one person.
If God is asking you do to something, if He’s put a call on your heart, it’s important enough to Him to do it. Just as you are important to Him.
Remember, Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He didn’t say He might make you fishers of men. He said He will.
J. C. is a valued member of The Virtual Way community and has generously contributed this article to our blog.